Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion


for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Easter Sunday (Year C)

Easter Sunday Year C [Jn 20:1-9]
21 April 2019
The Discovery of the Empty Tomb and Faith in the Resurrection
Readings: (1) Acts 10:34.37-43 (2) Col 3:1-4
1.  Theme in brief:
Looking for the Risen Lord with an intensity of love and faith
2.  Focus Statement:
Each one of us can become the beloved disciple of the Risen Lord by the intensity of our love for him, which enables us to run faster for him than before, and recognize his powerful presence promptly in all situations.
3.  Explanation of the text
Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb and her observation of removal of the stone symbolize Jesus’ victory over the power of death and darkness (evil or satanic forces, 20:1). She who is in darkness (or the one who lacks faith in the resurrection) goes in search of the One who is the Light of the world. According to John a disciple is the one who constantly looks for or is in search of the Master (1:38). That is why later on when Jesus appears to her he asks her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for” (20:15)? Hence, Mary Magdalene, being a woman disciple goes to the tomb not to anoint the body of Jesus (as Synoptic Gospels say), but in search of the One whom she loved most. Her loving devotion will be rewarded later on with the gift of a special appearance (20:14-15).
We need to carefully notice in today’s gospel text the characteristics of “the other disciple” or “the one whom Jesus loves” (20:2-4). He is called the Beloved Disciple of the Lord. When he and Simon Peter hear the word from Mary Magdalene about the empty tomb, they run towards it. But the Beloved Disciple manages to outrun Peter in the race.  His exemplary love for Jesus motivates him to run faster for Jesus and his cause. As soon as he reaches the tomb, he peeps into it and sees the linen cloths lying on the ground without the body. He waits for Peter and allows him to go into the tomb first. When Peter sees the same thing there is no immediate response or reaction from him. But when the Beloved Disciple goes in, he sees and believes promptly that Jesus has risen from the dead (20:9). Both of them see the same thing in the tomb (the linen wrappings lying there), but the Beloved Disciple sees it with the eyes of faith and believes first ((20:8). The intensity of his love towards Jesus stimulates faith instantly.
The fourth evangelist here may be contrasting Peter’s denial (unfaithfulness) during Jesus’ passion to the faithfulness of the Beloved Disciple who stood by the cross till the last moment. By staying close to Jesus in his suffering he proves to be really the Beloved Disciple. Though many of us presume that this disciple is John himself, nowhere he is clearly identified. This Beloved Disciple could be a symbol of all the disciples of Jesus who are called to become his beloved disciples. This Beloved Disciple is presented as a model for all believers so that they can be first to love, first to believe (that is, recognize the Risen Lord in faith) and first to remain faithful to him. He is also a model of arriving at faith in the resurrection without looking for physical proofs or spectacular miracles. Thus he is contrasted with Thomas who doubted about the truth of resurrection and demanded dramatic proofs. There also the Risen Lord will re-emphasize the necessity of faith without seeking for miracles and visions, and declare people who arrive at such faith as “blessed” (20:29).
4.  Application to life                     
From today’s gospel text we come to know how three disciples of Jesus (Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple) respond to the reality of the resurrection in three different ways. Mary Magdalene is presented as a faithful disciple who is constantly looking for (seeking after) the Master even after his death. She must have been shattered by the shameful death of her Master on the cross and must have felt emptiness within herself at such a loss. Not only that she experiences physical separation from Jesus who has touched her life so much, but also spiritual darkness – because she has not yet come to faith in the resurrection by which she can ‘see’ the presence of the Risen Lord in every dark moment of life. The discovery of the empty tomb symbolizes her own loss and emptiness first at the death of her Master which is now doubled at the loss of his body from the tomb. Like her, whenever we experience emptiness or meaninglessness of life we resemble that empty tomb. We expect God to take away our emptiness miraculously without any effort such as faithful and constant search for the Lord in faith after her example. When that does not happen we lose patience and dilute our faith in the Lord.
If our love and devotion for the Lord is as intense as Mary Magdalene, we get the strength to search for him even in dark moments of our life. Surely, he will reward our love and faith by assuring his mysterious presence even during “the dark night of our souls”. If we firmly believe that Jesus has risen indeed, we can see the presence of the One who is living everywhere and in every situation with the eyes of faith, even when we are walking in the valley of tears. The moment we allow evil forces (or forces of death) take control of us, we are cut off from our life’s source (God) and become a rudderless ship. The process of secularization that advances with greater speed makes us believe more in world’s standards like success, achievement, power, position and fame than in Christ’s standards of humble service, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness, self-emptying, etc. The Risen Lord has the power to remove these ‘stones’ (obstacle to faith) and give us the strength to win a decisive victory over the forces of death.  The celebration of the feast of Resurrection urges us to invoke the power of the Risen Lord over these forces so that we can win a victory of faith.
Secondly, we have Simon Peter who is presented as a disciple who is slower in believing than the Beloved Disciple. His relationship with the Master has undergone ups and downs. He is very much shattered for another reason – his failure as a leader. His cowardice has led him to deny his Master. But he does not stop running for the Lord along with the Beloved Disciple until he reaches the height of faithfulness. Is this not our story too? In spite of our occasional failures and unfaithfulness we are called not to lose hope and not to stop running for the Lord’s mission. We must learn from our mistakes and failures of the past. In a way, “experience” is another name for lessons we learn from our past mistakes. We hope that one day we shall overcome like Peter…
Thirdly, we have an unnamed disciple called the Beloved Disciple. It looks as if Simon Peter and this disciple were engaged in a running competition on first Easter morning. Of course, both of them were running for Jesus. But the Beloved Disciple was running faster than Peter. The reason is clear from his above-motioned failure. Though we too are running, we do not run with full vigour and passion. Sometimes we do not know actually whom are we running for.  Where is the cause and finishing line? Is God and his Kingdom our greatest treasure? Are we running for this treasure with intense zeal and passion? Do we hold on to this treasure or to God’s cause with total fidelity? Each one of us is called to become a beloved disciple of the Lord by loving him with such intensity day after day that we can run faster for him than before with passion and devotion. What it means is that we will be more enthusiastic, zealous and committed to the cause of Christ.
Like the Beloved Disciple, if we love Jesus the most, we can recognize his glorious and powerful presence promptly with the eyes of faith in all situations, places and persons. Our dedicated love will lead us to recognize his love at work everywhere; in our family, community and society. Sometimes we do not know actually whom are we running for. We need to question whether we toil and labour all the time only to build our own kingdom, for our own personal benefit or name and fame. While we do any dedicated service in family, society, workplace and the Church, if some opposition and criticism makes us give up our good work, then it is understood that we are not doing it for the Lord or out of love for him. It looks as if we are doing everything to please others and to get praise and honour for ourselves.
We normally believe and trust those people whom we love more. Similarly, if we love Jesus more than anything else, we shall trust him more and recognize his hidden presence even in unpleasant and bitter experiences. We trust that his presence is hidden in them because we love him. Loving him implies both intimacy with him through prayer, Word of God and sacraments, and also loving his values by practice. If there is love in our hearts, we do not require dramatic proofs or heavenly visions. We become blessed because we believe without seeing the Lord physically. We normally do not see the love of those who love us. However, we see the signs of love in their special concern for us. Through these signs we recognize their love only if we have a heart to see. 
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we firmly believe that life can emerge from empty tomb, and light can shine out of darkness? Can we see the signs of the Risen Lord’s presence in our lives? Does our intense love for Him stimulate us to love those whom he loves, namely, the needy and the lost sheep? Do we look for the Risen Lord in all situations, especially in dark moments of our life? Does it lead us to a greater faith-commitment? Do we also recognize the signs of his love expressed through the sacraments, especially thee Eucharist? Does it stimulate greater faith in us? Today the Church invites us to be the beloved disciples of the Risen Lord by a deeper love-relationship and faith-commitment. What is our response?
6.  A prayer
Risen Lord, grant that like Mary Magdalene, our love and devotion for you lead us to search for you even in dark moments of our life. Reward our love and faith by assuring your mysterious presence even when we walk through the dark tunnel and meaninglessness of our life. Increase our faith that we may recognize your powerful presence promptly with the eyes of faith in all situations, places and persons. May we become your beloved disciples by loving you with such intensity day after day that we can look for you and work for you with more enthusiasm and commitment than before. Grant that this intensity of love may lead us to recognize your love at work in our family, community and society. Amen.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Easter Vigil (Year C)

Easter Vigil [Lk 24:1-12]
20 April 2019
The Resurrection of Jesus
Readings: OT (1) Gen 1:1-2:2  (2) Gen 22:1-18  (3) Ex 14:15-15:1  (4) Is 54:5-14  (5) Is 55:1-11  (6) Bar 3;9-15.32-4:4  (7) Ez 36:16-28; NT (8) Rom 6:3-11
1.  Theme in brief:
Meeting  the Risen Lord among the living.
2.  Focus Statement:
As Jesus is risen, now he is not found among the dead, but among the living; hence, we have to look for him beyond the tomb, and meet him in faith in all situations and among all people.
3.  Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene and other women disciples of Jesus had gone to the tomb with the spices they had prepared, understandably to anoint Jesus’ body as a sign of love, devotion, and respect (24:1). When he died, they could not pay their tribute to the body of the Person whom they loved ardently by performing the last rites of anointing the body with spices as per Jewish custom. Since the Jewish Sabbath had already begun soon after Jesus’ burial, the regulations of the Sabbath forbade such work. This gospel text shows how the fervent and faithful love of the holy women even after his death  was rewarded with the joyful news given by “two men in dazzling clothes” (presumably angels, 24:4) that he has risen (24:5). Luke says that they had gone to the tomb on “the first day of the week” (that is, Sunday as per Jewish calendar) at early dawn (24:1). [Hence Sunday became the Day of the (Risen) Lord and Sabbath day for the Christian community, whereas for the Jews the Sabbath was the last day of the week or the seventh day (Saturday).]
When the holy women reached the tomb of Jesus they were perplexed to find the stone rolled away from the tomb and the body of Jesus missing (24:2-3). The rolling away of the stone symbolizes the victory of Jesus over the forces of death. By his resurrection, Jesus has overcome death and has opened up an eternal destiny beyond their physical death for those who believe in him. The angel of the Lord said to the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (24:5). "He" – that is, Jesus who lived in Nazareth, walked in a limited region of Palestine, taught the new Law, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died a shameful death on a cross and buried in this tomb is not "here." Because he is risen from the dead, now he is no more limited or confined to the place where they laid him, that is, to the place of his burial or to the space of his earthly life. Now he can break all barriers, walls, limitations and boundaries established by human beings and continue to save anyone who believes in his name.
Hence, the women were told by the angels that they were searching for him in the wrong place, among the dead, as if he was still dead; or in a limited space, as if he was confined only to the place where they buried him (24:5). Since he is risen, now he is a living reality, and they can meet him anywhere and in any situation through faith. The fact that Jesus is not here in the tomb (24:5) can be physically verified by the women because it is empty, but the fact that he has risen can be believed only in faith. Their bowing down of heads may symbolize their attempt to fix their minds only on physical vision.
The women become the first witnesses and proclaimers of faith in the resurrection of Christ (24:9). In the beginning the eleven apostles find the news about Jesus’ resurrection incredible and dismiss it as an “idle tale” (24:11) or as they say in modern English ‘the old wives’ tale’. As Mary said in her Magnificat, truly the powerful apostles are brought down from their thrones and the lowly women are lifted up (Lk 1:52).
4.  Application to life
Tonight we have gathered here to proclaim that Jesus is truly risen; hence he truly lives. Our Christian life or discipleship is a constant search for the Risen Lord. Tonight’s gospel text cautions us not to look or search for him among the dead or not to consider him as though he were a corpse still to be found in the tomb. After his resurrection, Jesus is not among the dead, but he is among the living. Hence, in order to find him, just as the women were told by the angels, we should not limit our search to the tomb or only to one place or situation. Nor should we limit our search for him and the need to find him only to this or any other place of worship (church), prayer, liturgy, or the limited space of our selfish desires. The gospel text invites us to look for or seek the Risen Lord away from the tomb in all situations of our life – in our joys and sorrows, daily problems and struggles, crises, calamities, trials, risks, disappointments and frustrations. We have to seek him in faith and discover him in the midst of our lives. We have to recognise him as he speaks to us in the Scriptures and comes to us as our spiritual food in the Eucharist.
If we believe that Jesus is alive, for us he is not just a hero or a great historical figure, but a living presence. His presence cannot be reduced merely to the pages of the Bible or any religious book, or a statue in a church, or to a tabernacle. He is no more in the tomb; he is a living reality. Now we are not following just an idea or ideology, a dream or an imagination, but a Living Person. It is not just enough to study him or know him theoretically, but because he lives, we can meet him in faith in all situations. Yes, if we really believe this, we shall feel his presence as he walks with us on our mountains of joy and in our valleys of tears, in our hardships, in our doubts and in all that happens to us.
Because Jesus lives, and if we firmly believe in his living presence, we can experience his peace in the midst of our disturbed and anxious minds, his providence in our deprivation, his support in our weakness and his outstretched arms in our fall and failures. Because he lives, we merely do not teach lessons from the life of a Great Teacher; we proclaim and testify to the world what we have ‘seen’ or experienced when we are touched by his powerful presence in the midst of our life-situations (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-2). He is in our Bethlehems; he is in our Gethsemanes; he is in our Golgothas; he is on our Mount Tabors; and he is in our Galilees. Because he lives, we can see something good in everything, however painful and disgusting an experience may be. Yes, because he lives, we believe that he is with us in all the ups and downs of life and will be with us for ever.
From the testimony of the resurrection given by the devout women, we come to know that those who ‘seek’ Jesus with love, devotion and faith, encounter him in impossible situations, even in death. The faithful love of the women disciples is a great inspiration to all of us not to give up our good initiatives/ welfare activities/ service when we meet hurdles/ opposition/ discouragement. These women prove the old traditional saying: “Two men looked through the prison bars; one saw mud, the other stars.” When the rest of them gave up, the women remained faithful, hoping something good against all hopes. When others saw mud, they looked beyond it by remaining faithful to their Master.
As the women initially responded to the sight of empty tomb by bowing their faces to the ground, if our gaze is fixed only on the tomb, that is exclusively on material things and worldly concerns, and if we fail to see him beyond the ‘tomb’ built by our selfishness and attachment to these things, then he is no more living for us. If we live exclusively for money, higher and higher status, more and more prestige, greater and greater income, and fail to see anything beyond this ‘tomb,’ then we are dead, that is, just existing rather than truly living. If we have no aim or cause to live and die for, then we die several times before we really die. Yes, the tomb is empty; we will not find him there. We will not find him where forces of death are at work; where a culture of death, violence and ‘might-is-right’ policy rules. We will not find him where greed, corruption and dishonesty rule. Nor will we find him only in ‘Jerusalem’ – the centre of Jewish worship or the places of our present worship. He is not confined to only church, prayer and this solemn and elaborate liturgy of Easter Vigil.
Today’s gospel invites us to look for the presence of the Risen Lord speciality among the marginalized people in our globalized and pluralistic world. We have to ‘seek’ him in a more committed manner among the poor, the sick, the underprivileged, the deprived, the suffering and the downtrodden and make the Risen Lord’s face of mercy shine on them by doing works of mercy for such people. He wants that we show a preferential love for the poor and the marginalized by our service to them. We make his presence active and striking when we continue his mission to bring life to those who are in death-like situations. By doing works of mercy for the underprivileged and the downtrodden we bring them the joy of the resurrection. Then “the tender mercy of our God” will break upon those who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79).
The message of Easter is the message of God’s mercy winning a victory over the forces of hatred, intolerance and violence. There forces are the forces of darkness and death. The question is whether we are and shall remain faithful to his mission of doing works of mercy in the midst of darkness and shadows of death. It is through our deeds of mercy done to the least ones, the dawn of the resurrection will break upon them (Lk 1:78).
Those who think that it is pointless to live and pointless to die with hope are already dead. For them the stone blocking the tomb is not yet rolled away. Besides, our lack of faith, sin or hardheartedness and self-centredness could be considered as the stones that block our vision of the Risen Lord. Today’s gospel invites us to roll away these obstructing stones. If we believe that Jesus is really living, others can notice it in our lives. After all, the fact of the resurrection was established by the effect it had on the lives of the apostles. They were totally transformed from cowardice to courageous witnesses. Do people notice the traces of Christ’s living presence in our conduct?-
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we seek the Risen Lord in all situations? Do we have faith enough to recognize the presence of the Risen Lord? Do we feel that Jesus is risen in us and in the world we live? What are the effects of Jesus’ living presence on our life and behaviour? By what signs we can know that Jesus is really living and active in our homes, neighbourhood and the Church? Have we locked up Jesus in our narrow and selfish world? Do we ‘see’ Jesus among the poor and the marginalized? Do we allow the Easter Light to dispel the darkness of sin, and baptismal water to cleanse us from evil? What are forces of death that rule our life, over which we need to win a victory with the power of the Risen Lord?
6.  A prayer
Risen Lord, open the eyes of our faith that we may seek you and discover your presence in the midst of our lives – its problems, trials, struggles, joys and sorrows. Roll away the obstructing stones which block our vision beyond the limited space of our selfish desires. Grant that we may recognise you as you speak to us in the Scriptures and come to us as our spiritual food in the Eucharist. Walk with us Lord, in our valley of tears, in our hardships, in our doubts and in all that happens to us. May we experience your support in our weaknesses and your outstretched arms in our fall and failures. Amen.